09 October, 2006

Burying people alive? That's our job!

A witness in the trial of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has said her family was "buried alive" by government forces who attacked her village.

She gave evidence as the trial for alleged war crimes and genocide resumed in Baghdad after a two-week break.

Thousands of Iraqi soldiers, some of them alive and firing their weapons from World War I-style trenches, were buried by plows mounted on Abrams battle tanks. The Abrams flanked the trench lines so that tons of sand from the plows funneled into the trenches. Just behind the tanks, actually straddling the trench line, came Bradleys pumping 7.62mm machine gun bullets into the Iraqi troops.

"I came through right after the lead company," said Army Col. Anthony Moreno, who commanded the lead brigade during the 1st Mech's assault. "What you saw was a bunch of buried trenches with people's arms and land things sticking out of them. For all I know, we could have killed thousands."

A thinner line of trenches on Moreno's left flank was attacked by the 1st Brigade commanded by Col. Lon Maggart. He estimated his troops buried about 650 Iraqi soldiers. Darkness halted the attack on the Iraqi trench line. By the next day, the 3rd Brigade joined in the grisly innovation. "A lot of people were killed," said Col. Davhttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifid Weisman, the unit commander.

One reason there was no trace of what happened in the Neutral Zone on those two days was that Armored Combat Earth Movers came behind the armored burial brigade, leveling the ground and smoothing away projecting Iraqi arms, legs and equipment.
Fortunately for Messrs. Powell and Schwartzkopf, memory was banned in the Patriot Act. Or was it the 1996 Counterterrorism Bill. Or maybe the Constitution. I don't remember.

Update: I forgot to mention that my bothering to compose this post is largely the result of my ongoing amusement with Mr. Schwarz's liveblogging of the memory hole. He was still gracious enough to give us some hot link action. Hi TinyRevolutionaries!


I remember when I first learned about that. It was in my modern poetry class in high school. It must have been the fall of 1994. I can't remember the context---perhaps we were reading the Wasteland and my teacher Carl wanted to make us feel a little more strongly what trench warfare was like?--but I remember being utterly surprised. I had certainly followed the gulf war quite closely in middle school, and it was not that distant from me and mine. And everyone else my age was also surprised. We'd just finished a year of American history with Howard Zinn as the primary text, but we'd never heard of this.

The sad thing is, text memory just doesn't sit at the same level as picture memory. All those pretty video game shots are much more thoroughly seered into my child's brain than any amount of reading could ingrain itself into my teen or adult brain. And so while I know this story perfectly well, I think I've brought it up all of twice in the dozens of times between 1995 and 2000 that I faced macho discussions of how modern war is clean and efficient and scientific--"remember how it was in the gulf?" It just doesn't come to mind. It's almost like a spell cast on it. . .

So hopefully Gulf war II has quashed that fantasy so carefully planted in the brains of a generation of children..  

Posted by Saheli

There is a difference, here. The Iraqi civilians killed by Hussein were victims of a group punishment against civilians for the (real or imagined) deeds of others.

The Iraqi soldiers killed in Gulf War I were in a war. They were combatants. They were legitimate targets.

I do not suggest that this is nice. I do not know of any nice way to be killed. But there is an important legal difference. Since so many of the world's recent problems (I'm lookin' at you, George. You, too, Tony.) seem to stem from a disregard of the rule of law, I thought it might be an important distinction to keep in mind. 

Posted by Jim

I've never understood why, when someone has a uniform on, it suddenly becomes acceptable to shoot and kill them. Yes, those guys were in the Iraqi army, invading Kuwait, but they're still human beings. Read this  Project on Defense Alternatives bit about estimates of the number of casualties, which makes incidental mention of the traumatic consequences for those who did the burying. 

Posted by saurabh

since when has "legitimate target" been an impregnable defense in a war crimes case? the more i hear about "rule of law" the more i think it's restricted to the letters on the paper and the skill of the various lawyers. "precedent" and "spirit" are being left out. 

Posted by hibiscus

Those guys in trenches obviously weren't trying to surrender (actually they wouldn't have had much chance to do it in that situation, they should have done it at an earlier time). The tanks would NOT have gone to the trouble of burying them alive if they weren't still fighting, there wouldn't have been any reason to flank them in the first place then. I see no controversy at all with this situation. The guys in trenches blew their chance to surrender and then they came under attack by US forces and were all killed.

The situation in our invasion of Iraq was much worse, in humanitarian terms. A lot of the Iraqi soldiers didn't want to fight for Sadaam in the first place, but were forced under threat of execution to suicide charge our tank columns, at which point our tanks had no choice but to cut them all down. They had no chance to surrender even though they wanted to.

And at least suffocation is a relatively quick way to go. They could have had a limb or two blown off by a 30mm round by a passing Apache and left to die, or be horribly burned but not finished off by a napalm. 

Posted by stuff

Mostly good point, but I question this part: The tanks would NOT have gone to the trouble of burying them alive if they weren't still fighting, there wouldn't have been any reason to flank them in the first place then.

Remember that Iraqis were feared as some great fighting force that could and would do great damage to the U.S. military, rather the way the Chinese are viewed (more realistically) today. And that the tank commanders included such notable humanists as Timothy McVeigh. There's little profit in underestimating man's inhumanity to man.

Posted by hedgegod

in the tiny revolution comments there are some conflicting stories about surrender. according to one story cited, the entrenched soldiers were covered over because "they were surrendering in such large and unexpected numbers, the Iraqis seemed to constitute a threat to the security of the allied forces."

in the linked non-gov investigation , following artillery and napalm assaults, "[due] to fear of chemical attack and the demanding pace of the planned offensive, the US 1st Division did not make loudspeaker appeals for surrender." keep in mind that the people buried seem to have been on the iraqi side of the saudi arabian border. making no request for surrender before crossing that line, when people were already surrendering by the hundreds on the saudi side, is seriously seriously ugly. 

Posted by hibiscus

err, sorry, i mis-type-membered. i didn't mean the surrenders were in saudi arabia, i meant "outside iraq," in this case being in kuwait. while digging up iraqi troop movements in that war, i found this CSM story from september 2002 . one more time: dick cheney is a very dishonest person. 

Posted by hibiscus

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